Whoever first said, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” never took a good hard look at the offspring of many American political figures. Recent allegations from several women that Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York sexually harassed them are so out of synch with the public image of his late and respected father, Governor Mario Cuomo, that — if the allegations are true — show the governor from the Big Apple falling into a totally different orchard. The late senior Cuomo was revered as a brilliant gentleman full of wisdom and class.
Andrew Cuomo also disappointed Americans who had appreciated and respected the New York governor’s COVID-19 public health TV updates early in the crisis when most of us knew nothing about the impending plague. A year later, Mario’s son and members of his administration stand accused of altering the number of nursing home deaths due to COVID-19 to hide the true numbers while also accused of misusing his Albany State House staff to help get his book written, edited, and published.
Such generational disappointment is not new, nor limited to any one political party. When Republican George H.W. Bush was polishing his political resume, his son and future presidential successor, George W. Bush, was allegedly getting high and generally being a renegade before calming down just in time to repair his image, govern the state of Texas, and eventually move into Pennsylvania Avenue himself.
In the case of Donald Trump and son Donald Trump Jr., the apple clung tightly to the tree branch. While the father was embarrassing himself and the nation with racist, sexist, anti-NATO, and other disparaging (usually inaccurate) less-than-presidential remarks during the 2016 presidential campaign, his namesake, Donald Jr, retweeted conspiratorial remarks by white supremacist Kevin B. MacDonald falsely accusing Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton of assorted wrongdoings.
John F. Kennedy, on the other hand, had two children, both of whom gave him reasons to be proud. John F. Kennedy Jr. and his older sister, Caroline, managed to capture all the Kennedy mystique and charm while also contributing to society through their work and volunteer activities.
Presidential son Ronald Reagan Jr. has demonstrated his willingness to promote what many consider a difficult and important cause as an outspoken supporter of the rights of atheists. Such an affiliation might not have been on his god-fearing father’s list of favored beliefs, but he probably would have appreciated his son’s commitment to a legitimate cause, however unpopular in the president’s and others’ circles.
There have also been times when the apple manages to fall and even roll far enough from the tree that it hardly has any relationship to it.
Richard Nixon’s admired daughters chose low-profile, private lives far from public view, and Jimmy Carter’s daughter, Amy — once a challenging child who roller-skated in the White House — grew up to be a serious and respected activist and anti-CIA recruitment demonstrator. For this she was arrested and successfully represented by attorney Leonard Weinglass, who defended Abbie Hoffman in the Chicago Seven trial in the 1960s.
Those who come from a line of overachievers are often driven to devote a good deal of energy to making a mark that is different, and hopefully better, than that of their famous parents. This isn’t easy to do if you are trying to outshine a great singer, pianist, or sculptor. It must be even more challenging when attempting to measure up to someone whose job it is to successfully lead a major American city or state — or the free world.
Hats off to those who have matched — or even surpassed — parents who succeeded so well before them, and for the courage, drive, and determination it takes to build upon that greatness.
Mary Ann Sorrentino is a freelance columnist who writes from Cranston, R.I.